Epithets

Epithets are common in classical Greek and Roman literature. These are a descriptive phrase that's commonly attached to the name of a person, place or thing. For example, in the Iliad, Hector is called "tamer of horses" 410 times. Achilles is often called "swift-footed." He's actually called "shepherd of the people" much more often, but "swift-footed" is the epithet that people seem to most often remember for him.

Epithets were useful in classical literature because it was often memorized instead of being written down, and having a stock phrase that's commonly used makes memorizing things easier. Works like the Iliad are also written in dactylic hexameter, so it was probably easier for the author to have a stock phrase that fit the meter that he could use again and again. Sort of an early version of object reuse.

So you might wonder what epithet would be used for more contemporary people in the unlikely event that an epic poem in classical Greek is written about them. Ronald Reagan might be the "fighter of the Cold War." You can probably think of all sort of clever epithets for other modern politicians. Most of these will strongly depend on whether or not you are a supporter or not. For some, it might even be appropriate to reuse the epithet of Theristes. He was a Greek soldier in the Trojan War who was often referred to in the Iliad as "loose tongued," which is sometimes translated as "of the endless speech."

If you really get carried away, you might even start to wonder what a suitable epithet for yourself might be. In my case, it could be based on my experience with getting Voltage's Common Criteria certification. This process involved overwhelming amounts of paperwork, so I might be one day known as the "slayer of trees." That almost sounds heroic, although it's certainly not in the same league as Odysseus, who was known as "sacker of cities," or "mastermind of war."

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